Kevin Costner and television don't get together that often, but when they do, it works out both him and for audiences. The actor won an Emmy for his role in the acclaimed miniseries Hatfields & McCoy's, and a few episodes of Yellowstone, viewers may be convinced he deserves more awards for his portrayal of hardened rancher John Dutton. With a strong cast of intriguing characters, this blood-soaked western drama will take TV's summer lull away far more entertaining and may make this Yellowstone just as famous as the park.

As audiences will learn as they watch through the opening weeks of Paramount Network's newest drama, Yellowstone begins and ends with the Dutton family. Kevin Costner's John owns and operates the largest contiguous ranch in the United States, and with that land comes a lot of power, and a lot of potential enemies. Dutton's cowboy hat may as well be a a bejeweled crown; he's Montana royalty with many working against him in efforts to take some (or all) of what he has.

Every player has their reasons to come after John. Some wish to continue gentrifying Montana lands to better serve the state's growing number of wealthy transplants. Then there are Native American representatives looking to reclaim what they are owed, as stated by the law. Regardless of anyone's motivations, one thing becomes abundantly clear very early on: John Dutton isn't willing to give an inch of what he owns without fighting tooth and nail. Fortunately for him, he has a heap of money, tons of connections, his own helicopter, and a signature classic cowboy attitude that's gonna make it tough for anyone to overcome him in the 10-part series.

If John Dutton does have a weakness, it no doubt lies within his troubled and flawed children. Jamie (Wes Bentley), Beth (Kelly Reilly), Cory (Luke Grimes) and Lee (Dave Annable) all boast quite evident flaws that Yellowstone tends to beat into the audience's head throughout the premiere. Jamie is a little too desperate for his father's approval. Beth is an angry addict in desperate need of intervention. Cory is trying to escape his original family while protecting his new family. And Lee...just isn't all that bright.

That initial focus on the Dutton children's off-putting habits will definitely turn a few folks off at first -- we get it, Beth swears a lot because she's edgy and a permanent hot mess! But it is ultimately helpful down the line as the story starts to broaden out, and viewers start hopping from storyline to storyline quite frequently. So many different characters are introduced beyond the Suttons, audiences won't need to worry all that much about growing too tired of any one character.

Yellowstone also keeps its audience entertained with a healthy dose of action and drama, courtesy of acclaimed screenwriter and director Taylor Sheridan, of Hell or High Water and Sons of Anarchy fame. Much of that action and drama revolves around Luke Grimes' Cory Dutton, who moves the drama off the ranch and into the neighboring Native American reservation, where it seems as though just about anything can happen. At the risk of spoiling things for those eager to watch that's as much as I'll say, although folks should be warned this isn't family-friendly action meant for all ages. In fact, things get dark and depressing in Yellowstone pretty quickly, and truth be told, if it wasn't so delightfully entertaining in other ways, more sensitive viewers might be compelled to stop watching.

Violence aside, Paramount Network has given Yellowstone some other surprising liberties in regards to its newest drama. The word "fuck" is used enough times in the first few episodes to quickly render a tally count too time-consuming, although it wasn't always incredibly out of place or gratuitous. There's also a pretty surprising nude scene that most networks outside of HBO would balk at, so credit goes to the series for pushing the primetime cable TV envelope.

As one of several modern-era westerns to hit the small screen in recent years, Yellowstone is certainly at its best when it's at its most shocking, and the success and resonance of all those shocking moments come thanks in large part to the remarkably well-rounded cast. Kevin Costner is, of course, a Hollywood icon and he's got all the weathered swagger that viewers should expect, but there isn't anyone in this ensemble whose performance that feels at all lacking. Granted, there are certainly unlikable characters that draw ire from the get-go, but Yellowstone even gets us to empathize with a couple of those characters as the series continues.

As far as weaknesses are concerned, Yellowstone is not flawless. The non-stop action and entertainment comes at the price of erratic pacing, and it only takes a few episodes for this story to reach a place that typical dramas would hit for midseason finales. A LOT of stuff happens in a very short time, and at some point, I remember asking myself what more these characters could possibly accomplish with so many episodes left to go. But perhaps the breakneck plotting will level off as time goes by, similar to how the Dutton offsprings' in-your-face personalities got more balanced and toned-down.

There are small problems ripe for nitpicking in Yellowstone, but none so large anyone should even momentarily think about skipping it. Yellowstone is the summer series that people need to watch, and it's a modern western that audiences have been waiting for. Kevin Costner's performance as John Dutton will provide chills to accompany the show's various thrills, and there are many to be had on both counts. If audiences haven't yet realized what Paramount Network is capable of with scripted TV, Yellowstone will put it on the map with a spot as big as Montana.

8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating

Yellowstone premieres on Paramount Network on Wednesday, June 20, at 9:00 p.m. ET. Tune into the premiere and then head on over to our summer premiere guide to see what other television shows are premiering in the weeks to come.

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